wine country

Great Wines of Lodi, Part III: Bokisch Vineyards

This is the third and final installment in our series on the superior Lodi wineries that we visited over the course of a weekend last month.  We published our three-part series in the chronological order of our winery visits.  We were so impressed with Lodi that we have added wine from three wineries to our online web store, www.topochines.com.

It surprised us to hear that there is a winery in Lodi making outstanding wines exclusively from Spanish varietals.  We wouldn’t have guessed it from the name: Bokisch Vineyards.  After all, Bokisch is as Spanish as, well, Ingersoll (our name).  It turns out that Bokisch Vineyards’ co-founder, Markus Bokisch, is half-Spanish on his mother’s side. Our mother/mother-in-law (Mamá) is also from Spain. This shared upbringing – spending time in Spain during summers and holidays with aunts, uncles and cousins – was one of the things that motivated us to visit Bokisch.  That, and recommendations from over a dozen wine experts imploring us to add Bokisch to our Lodi itinerary.

Our host for the Bokisch tour and tasting was co-founder Liz Bokisch, wife of the aforementioned Markus.  She greeted us as we came in and spent nearly two hours telling us the Bokisch story, giving us a visual tour of the vineyards,  and sharing their portfolio with us.  We started our tasting with Albariño, a classic Spanish wine common to the Rias Baixas region in the northwestern province of Galicia.  We had side-by-side tastings of two different Albariño wines – the 2016 Terra Alta Vineyard and the 2016 Las Cerezas Vineyard.  Although made from grapes sourced from vineyards just a few miles from each other, these two wines were by no means identical. The Terra Alta version was a bit more crisp, having aged 100% in stainless steel.  The Las Cerezas, meanwhile, saw some time in oak which yielded a softer mouthfeel and a longer, rounded finish.

We continued on with the white wines and sampled some delicious wines made from grapes indigenous to Spain.  Our next wine was the 2016 Garnacha Blanca from Vista Luna Vineyard.  Many wine drinkers have encountered this grape varietal as Grenache Blanc, common to the  Rhône region in France; however, the varietal is native to Spain.  Bokisch’s Garnacha Blanca is very light in color, with aromas of apple and stone fruits, and flavor of apple and pear.

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Crisp, refreshing and delicious Grenache Blanc

Our next two wines were made from grapes that sound very similar but are genetically distinct:  Verdehlo and Verdejo, the former a classic Portuguese grape, the latter the star of Spain’s Rueda wine region.  We enjoyed both wines but the Verdejo was a real revelation to us, perhaps because we were expecting a simple, crisp, refreshing white wine.  Of course, the Bokisch 2016 Verdejo was all of these things, but so much more. In addition to the expected aroma and flavor of citrus and stone fruit, the wine was more full-bodied than we expected with a nuttiness on the palate.  We attribute this more complex aroma and flavor profile to the fact that the wine was aged in new French and Acacia barrels.  While most white wines are best consumed within a couple of years of purchase, we believe the Bokisch Verdejo is capable of ageing due to its structure and complexity.

 

After making our way through the Bokisch white wines, it was finally time to turn our attention to their roster of vino tinto.  In our opinion, Tempranillo is the king of all Spanish red grape varietals, although we are biased by the fact that Mamá only liked wine from Rioja.  However, Liz blew us away with two of their other reds, the 2014 Bokisch Garnacha and the 2014 Bokisch Graciano.  Wine aficionados will know that in the past couple of years Garnacha/Grenache have become popular red wines, both for their flavor as well as their relatively low prices.  This Bokisch take on Garnacha was true to the Spanish expression:  lovely rose and strawberry aromatics complemented by a bit of spice.  On the palate the strawberry was complemented by cranberry and raspberry and a spicy finish.  Certainly Mamá would not approve of our saying this, but Garnacha is currently our favorite red wine.

Our next Bokisch red wine was a single-varietal wine made from the Graciano grape, which is not so common in the U.S. but a key grape in Spain’s Rioja region.  Because of its deep color and intense flavor, Graciano most often finds itself blended in with Tempranillo in Rioja’s highest quality wines and contributes to their ability to age.  Recently, some bodegas in Rioja have started making single-varietal wines from Graciano.  After tasting the 2016 Bokisch Graciano, we are looking forward to sampling some 100% Graciano when we go to Rioja later this Spring.

 

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A wine geek’s wine

The first thing that captured our attention when Liz poured the Graciano was its color.  Often wine notes will refer to a wine as “inky,” but usually that means darker purple.  This Bokisch Graciano really is inky – a dark and brooding color. On the nose, there were no red fruits, just more darkness – blackberry, plum, coffee, dark chocolate.  On the palate, the fruit was balanced beautifully with acidity with strong tannins leading to a long finish.  We like to think that Mamá would have enjoyed this wine as it resembles the strong, masculine, dry Rioja wines that she loved the most.

Our final Bokisch red wine was the 2014 Tempranillo, a faithful representation of this Rioja varietal and a wine that we are sure Mamá would have enjoyed, albeit grudgingly.

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This Bokisch Lodi Tempranillo honors the style of Rioja

Dark ruby in color, the Bokisch Tempranillo presented aromas of cherry, plum, cedar and a hint of clove.  On the palate, dark fruits mixed with earth, resulting in a more balanced Tempranillo than we have encountered from other U.S. wineries.  Having spent 18 months in new American and French oak, the wine has a luscious, almost silky texture without tasting over-oaked.

After we made our way through what seemed like the entire portfolio of Bokisch wines, Liz let us know that they have a second label (Tizona) that features wines that are not native to the Iberian peninsula.  Markus and Liz wanted to keep the Bokisch label purely focused on Spanish wines, but also wanted to offer wines that are more classically Lodi.  We tasted a Tizona Zinfandel that was rich, structured, balanced, and a fantastic addition to the Zinfandel offerings in Lodi.  We also tasted the Bokisch 2016 Late Harvest Graciano, a ridiculously good dessert wine that we also purchased and consumed almost immediately after arriving home.

A hallmark of a great winery – and winemaker – is when the portfolio of wines smell and taste consistent.  This consistency comes from having a specific approach to viticulture and enology:  how to tend the grapes; when to pick; yeast inoculation protocol; and ageing.  Markus Bokisch is in charge of the grape growing for the 80-acre estate parcel that surrounds the winery and he has consistent practices for how he tends his vines.  100% of the Bokisch Vineyards are certified organic as well as sustainable; in fact, Markus Bokisch provides vineyard management services on over 2,800 acres of vines within 5 of the Lodi Sub-AVAsand Clarksburg AVAs.  Many of these vineyards have been or are being converted to organic-certified.  Complementing Markus’ organic farming practices are winemaker Elyse Perry’s hands-off approach in the cellar.  Her respect for each grape varietal is evident in the fact that the Bokisch Spanish wines resemble their Spanish counterparts in their aroma, flavor and texture.

John & Irene Ingersoll                                                                                                                  March 20, 2018

We are in the process of adding three Bokisch wines to our online wine store, www.topochines.com.  We will publish an update when these wines are available.

 

Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Blanc – Willamette Valley Gem

This is the latest chapter in our ongoing series of posts about wines and wine makers that we feature on our Online Wine Store.  Our Topochines Vino wine store focuses on small-production wines from family wineries in the United States and Europe.  This chapter is dedicated to one of our newer winery partners, Ghost Hill Cellars in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, whose 2013 and 2014 Pinot Noir Blanc are sold on our site.

Most of the world’s champagne is made from the red Pinot Noir grape.  After the Pinot Noir grapes are pressed, the extracted juice is removed before the dark skins contribute any color.  What emerges from this process is a clear liquid that will, after a couple of fermentations, become champagne.  What many people do not know is that a still, white wine can also be produced from Pinot Noir Grapes; this wine is called Pinot Noir Blanc, or white Pinot Noir.  We encountered this wine recently during a trip to find unique wines for our Topochines Vino wine store.  We were so impressed with the wine that we snapped up several cases and the 2013 and 2014 vintages are now available here:  Ghost Hill Pinot Noir Blanc.

Just before Thanksgiving, we spent nearly a week in Oregon’s Willamette Valley crisscrossing the Valley from one A.V.A. to another.  One of our favorite stops was the intriguingly named Ghost Hill in the Yamhill-Carlton District.  According to legend, in the late 1890’s a miner was traveling from Southern Oregon to sell his gold in Portland.  He made the fateful decision to stop for the night and set up camp at the top of what is now known as Ghost Hill.  During the night,  so the story goes, the miner was robbed and killed, his horse mortally injured, and his hard-earned gold stolen.  To this day, the miner is said to wander the hill looking for his stolen gold and to right the wrongs that befell him that night.  Hence the name Ghost Hill.

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Not hard to imagine a ghost on that hill

While the miner may be still searching for his gold, the Bayliss family has struck gold of its own on this property – wine gold, that is.  In total, the Bayliss family owns 234 acres of farmland, a true “Century” farm – meaning it has been owned continuously by the same family for over 100 years.  In the case of the Bayliss clan, they are on their fifth generation working this land.  For most of the 20th Century, the Ghost Hill land was dedicated to sheep and cattle, hay, and other crops.  In 1999, Mike Bayliss and his wife Dendra decided to plant Pinot Noir on a portion of the property and today they farm a 16-acre parcel planted 100% to Pinot Noir.  Their Ghost Hill Cellars label produces several different wines from these grapes – the above-mentioned Pinot Noir Blanc, a rosé of Pinot Noir, and two separate Pinot Noir offerings.

We did our tasting in the cozy Ghost Hill tasting room, with owners Mike and Dendra pouring the wines and telling us more about each of the wines.  Mike and his son Michael built the wooden Ghost Hill tasting room building by hand,
inspired by prospector shacks of the 1850s. The building features a sliding barn door,
reclaimed windows from the nearby Trappist Abbey Church, and a counter made from the former altar floor.

Ghost Hill tasting room

Ghost Hill Cellars tasting room

Mike and Dendra live on the Ghost Hill estate in the same farmhouse where Mike was born 70 years ago.  He and Dendra have been married for 50 years and they are true partners managing this large farm.  As Ghost Hill only makes wine from Pinot Noir, we made our way through their portfolio, starting with the whites, moving to the “pink,” and on to the red.

We started our tasting with the 2013 Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Blanc, and tasted it side-by-side with the same wine from the 2014 vintage.

We enjoyed both wines immensely; they were crisp and refreshing with aromatics of pear and spice and, on the palate, apple, pear and honey.  Our next wine was the 2015 Ghost Hill Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Like the white Pinot Noir, the Rosé was crisp and refreshing with a nice balance of fruit and acidity.  Strawberry and citrus on the nose give way on the palate to a luscious blend of watermelon, citrus fruit and strawberry.

Our final two wines were (red) Pinot Noir offerings – the 2012 Ghost Hill Cellars Prospector’s Reserve and the 2013 Bayliss-Bower Pinot Noir.  Both of these wines are blends of four different Pinot Noir clones from Ghost Hill’s estate vineyards.  Both wines are classic expressions of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, although the Prospector’s Reserve (priced slightly higher than the Bayliss-Bower) is a bit more dense and full-bodied.   Either wine would make for a great pairing with Christmas dinner.

For us, the “trifecta” of wine tasting occurs when we encounter (1) wines that we love, (2) in a magical location, (3) made by people that we like and admire.  Ghost Hill Cellars hit the trifecta for us.

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 17, 2017

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